Remembering Luther C. Pierce (1924-2021)

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I recently learned that my friend, colleague and former congregant, Luther Pierce died last month in Gainesville. FL, just weeks shy of his 98th birthday.

When I first met Luther, he was already retired from a long ministry in CT, and was living in Cummington, MA. He was serving two little churches part-time in the hill towns of Western, MA, Peru and Worthington.

We first met at the home of Max and Jean Stackhouse, who hosted monthly dinners for area clergy at their home in the Berkshires. Luther was also the New England development representative for Seminario Evangelico de Puerto Rico. He convinced our congregation to include the school in the mission portion of a capital fund campaign.

Later, when Luther really retired, he and his wife Fran started attending the church I served in Pittsfield, the First Church of Christ, Congregational. and later joined and became active members of the church. Luther frequently guest preached for me, and was a supporter of me and my ministry. Now that I am retired, Luther remains a model and guide for how I try to support my own pastor.

In 1995, when I had a sabbatical at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, Luther was the interim minister. Everybody loved Luther.

Luther had a passion for world missions and later became the chair of our mission committee at First Church. He was active in mission and stewardship work in both the CT and MA Conferences of the UCC. In CT, he chaired the Department of Mission and Stewardship for several years. Before he retired he had visited over forty countries, often visiting the missionaries around the world.

Before he became a pastor, Luther was a chicken farmer, a pilot, a Christian educator, and the executive of the Greater Miami Council of Churches.

He had gone to Bucknell University, a Baptist college, and one of his classmates was United Church of Christ theologian, Gabriel Fackre, who was also a Baptist at the time.

Luther was locally ordained a Baptist and later, with help from his old friend, Gabe, was received into the United Church of Christ. He served UCC churches in FL and CT.

Luther was one of those omni-competent guys that could do most anything. He built his retirement home in Cummington with his own hands. The front of the house was all done in local stone. He gardened, raised chickens, and had a woodworking shop where he made things to sell at church fundraisers. He started a small press to publish his writings, Birch Hill Press, and he published one of my books.

Luther and Fran were wonderful hosts and great cooks. Their table was spread with food that they had grown or made themselves. Fran was a delightful southern belle from Alabama who Luther had met when he was on his way home from military service. It was a love match; they were married for 66 years.

Luther was one of the most intellectually curious and best read people I have known. He went into the ministry after being in business and never attended seminary, something he regretted. His ordination was a local ordination in the Baptist church he was serving at the time, and when he came to the United Church of Christ he was given a rigorous course of study before he was accepted. It is ironic that he was better versed in the theological disciplines than most clergy I have known. He and I read many books together and talked about them, including a couple of tomes by New Testament scholar N.T. Wright, who I had studied with during my Oxford sabbatical.

In August of 2000 I had a catastrophic bicycle accident while riding the Greylock Century Ride. It was on the Saturday that our church held its annual Blueberry Festival, and I had opted out for the ride. I called Luther from the Berkshire Medical Center to tell him I couldn’t come to church the next day, and to ask him to fill in for me. He quickly assured me he would see to it, and then he gently said, “You should have come to the Blueberry Festival!”

I always thought he had the coolest name for a Protestant pastor: Luther Calvin Pierce, and I told him so. He looked sheepish and said, “My folks chose my middle name out of admiration for Calvin Coolidge.”

Luther was a faithful and wise pastor who walked the walk as well as talked the talk. He was a great human being, and a good friend. I thank God for him.

His service is this afternoon down in Gainesville. I can’t be there so I wrote this.

Charge to First Church of Christ in Pittsfield, Massachusetts

November 21 , 2021

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(I served this congregation as their pastor from 1982-2004. I am Pastor Emeritus there. The congregation voted recently to put the 1853 meeting house up for sale. The upkeep on this splendid Victorian Gothic Revival building was requiring a large share of the congregation’s resources, and limiting other mission and ministry options. We met today to remember and celebrate our years in this lovely building. I was invited as the longest tenured living pastor to give a charge to the congregation at the close of the service. Here it is:) Continue reading

The American presidency: two new books

Having barely survived the four years of the Trump presidency I am reflecting on how this unique institution impacts our democracy. There are two new books out about the American presidency, Peril, by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, and last year’s book on the presidency of Jimmy Carter, His Very Best: Jimmy Carter, A Life by Jonathan Alter. Both are published by Simon and Schuster.

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“A Cinderella Story” A Sermon for the Third Sunday after Pentecost

“Are all your sons here?” – 1 Samuel 16: 11,12

We all know the story of Cinderella. She is mistreated by her stepmother and her stepsisters, but in the happy ending, it is she that is picked by the handsome prince. We use the phrase “A Cinderella story” to describe a victorious underdog, such as a sports team with no chance winning over a mighty favorite.

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“In God We Trust” A Sermon for the Second Sunday after Pentecost

 

“In God We Trust”

1 Samuel 8: 4-11, 16-20

Mark 3: 20-35

 

“In God We Trust” is the official motto of the United States. It was adopted by Congress in 1956, replacing E pluribus unum, which had been the de facto motto since 1776. “In God We Trust” appears on all our currency. Continue reading